Family’s Emotional Investment Is Great
Elizabeth Quilter and her son, retired Lt. Col. Charles Quilter II, are among the myriad VIPs who received monogrammed invitations to El Toro’s closing ceremonies. But they will probably not attend.
“It’s just too sad. . . . There are too many memories,” she said.
Said her son: “So much of my life has been tied up in there. I’m not sure if I have it in me to go out there and go through that.”
Elizabeth’s late husband and Charles II’s father was Maj. Gen. Charles Quilter, a venerated commanding officer at El Toro during the mid-1960s. When he retired in 1969 after 33 years of service, his retirement ceremony was at El Toro; he died in 1977 in Orange County.
A prototypical military family, the Quilters traveled all over the world, but El Toro eventually became home.
Charles II remembers growing up in El Toro’s shadow. As a teenager, he regularly watched jets screaming off the tarmac as he crouched in a clump of eucalyptus trees between runways. From the family’s home in nearby Laguna Beach, he watched fighter jets thunder overhead.
When Charles Quilter II joined the Marine Corps, his father swore him in at El Toro. In 1966, when he left for Vietnam, he bid farewell to a proud father and a weeping mother. When he returned, more than 250 combat missions later, he kissed the tarmac.
Although Elizabeth Quilter had endured seeing her husband off to World War II and Korea and later Vietnam--he commanded the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing--saying goodbye to her son was different.
“It’s one thing to send off your husband, someone you were accustomed to knowing that, every time a war broke out, he would be sent there,” she recalled. “It was another to send one of your own loins. . . . It was heart-wrenching.”
But Elizabeth Quilter also has warm memories of El Toro--of riding her horse, Tar Boy; the parades on the greens; the band playing; the noise of fighter planes overhead; the parking space reserved for the general’s wife.
And so does her son. He recalls the pride of commanding a fighter squadron and the sweetness of homecoming, not just from Vietnam but Bosnia and Desert Storm too.
Now an airline pilot, Quilter considers that fate might bring his life full circle: “Some of my earliest flying hours were out of El Toro. Now, if it turns into an international airport, some of my last could be out of there.”